About the Term Intersex Versus the Term DSD

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Bhakti Ananda Goswami, board member, OII USA


This article represents the views of its author and does not represent Organisation Intersex International policy nor that of its affiliates. The views of the author may well have changed since this article was written.

About The General Scientific and Medical Use of The Term ‘Intersex’

The term ‘intersex’ has been used in the scientific community for a long time to describe plants and animals that are not either the typically chromosomal and reproductively dimorphic XX-female or XY-male. The term may be used for an individual within an otherwise usually dimorphic species, or for an entire class of beings within a species, such as a non-reproductive class of worker bees, or a population of fish or XY female rodents.

A vast variety of intersex states are common in animals and human beings too. Some of these conditions are even very similar, and may actually have causally related genetic and hormonal components. By understanding human intersex conditions, including natural genetic sex-reversal and transsexed behaviors in the context of other animals and especially vertebrates and mammals, it can be clearly seen that human intersex, transsexual behavior and even same-sex pairing is a natural and non-pathological part of the entire community of creation.

In fact, a base-line population of intersexed, transsex-behaved, and same-sex attracted beings in a species will be exceeded in a time of species stress, and this acts as a benevolent population control, by reducing species fertility in a time of crisis. Conversely, intersex and spontaneous sex changing is extremely common in many species, where it actually maximizes reproductive success!

Again, non-reproductive intersex classes of beings perform essential services in the success of their species. So, both reproductive and non-reproductive members of a species contribute to its overall success.

Beside the older research done on the more obvious classes of intersex beings in other species, and the enormous variety of intersex humans, there is now a new human research focus on the traditional social roles of both feminized and exclusively homosexual males in various primitive and extended-family traditional societies. In these societies the ‘gay uncle’ is a social role that improves the survival and social success of the ‘gay’ man’s siblings’ offspring, and therefore the over-all reproductive success of the family. As a provider, protector, educator and discipliner, etcetera, the ‘gay uncle’ is also the one who steps-in and takes care of his mother, if she is widowed, and raises his younger siblings, instead of taking a wife and raising his own children.

Related to this commonly occurring social role, one of the most interesting facts to emerge from recent studies of human reproductive success, is that the nonsense notion of a male-carried ‘gay gene’ for exclusive homosexuality, which logically could not have been passed-on by ‘gay’ sex acts, is apparently carried in the female line, with the most successful ‘super’ mothers’ lines carrying this genetic trait.

Gay rights advocates have long-suspected that there was some kind of a ‘gay gene’ for exclusive male same-sex attraction. But this is a silly idea because it would have non-bred itself out of existence long ago. However, the truth to the idea of a male ‘gay gene’ can be found elsewhere, not in the male line.

Thus, regardless of race, the super mothers, who bear and raise the largest number of healthy children, are also the ones who have the highest birth rate of exclusively same-sex attracted male children.

As in other species, it is obvious that such feminized ‘males’ and same-sex attracted beings are built into the human species for a variety of positive species-success enhancing purposes. If we look objectively at the natural social roles that feminized males and masculinized females have in both primitive and more civilized societies world wide, we can observe that the same positive patterns of their social contribution are repeated, unless their full participation in society is prevented by some kind of religious or other social stigma.

Erasing Human Intersex

Thus all forms of intersex, or atypical sex differentiation and/or behavior, including non-reproductive and neuter classes, transsexed behavior, same-sex acts and same-sex pair-bonding, genetic sex-reversal (XY females, XX males) and actual spontaneous sex-changing are important and healthy/necessary parts of life on Earth.

However, recently in an attempt to blind the uneducated and homophobic fundamentalist religious and politically correct population of the world to this fact, a cadre of western academics, medical and psychiatric professionals has launched a global campaign to replace the use of the general scientific term ‘intersex’ as has been used for all species, including humans, with the human-exclusive term ‘Disorders of Sex Development’ (DSD) to be used for certain human intersex individuals only. This cadre will also define whom DSD is used for.

The effect of this change will be to cut-off human intersex from the context and continuum of all other life on Earth. So no longer would a web search for ‘intersex’ yield references to plant, animal and human forms of intersex, including natural XY-female or XX-male sex-reversal, spontaneous sex-changing or transsexual or homosexual relevant animal research. Instead, only certain very limited atypical human conditions would be web or library searchable under the new very narrowly defined and professionally controlled and pathologizing term ‘Disorders of Sex Development.’

This is why, as both a biomedical researcher and human rights activist, I am adamantly opposed to this insidious medical-religio-political campaign to change the accepted general and non-pathologizing biological terminology from ‘intersex’ to the human-only and pathologizing term ‘Disorders of Sex Development’ or DSD.

The Term ‘DSD’ Disconnects Humanity from the Context of All Other Life on Earth

Since the late 1960s, when I first began my studies of non-human intersex, I have read thousands of studies and abstracts of studies on intersex non-humans, and these would have been inaccessible to me if I was primarily a human studies researcher looking for related animal research using the newly proposed human-only species-specific term ‘DSD.’

Just as ethnocentrism blinds people to greater human truths, so does anti-scientific religious fundamentalist homocentrism, meaning human-centrism, blind people to the greater truths of life on Earth. Fortunately for me, my young contact with Vaishnavism cured me of any of the kind of pathological human-centrism that I might have acquired from the primarily Protestant fundamentalist American culture of my upbringing.

Contact with Vaishnavism freed my young mind to study humanity more objectively in the context of all other life on Earth. Now, I fear that such scientifically objective study is going to become obstructed by the globally combined religio-political fundamentalist campaigns to once-and-for-all disconnect the global academic language of biology, agriculture, and veterinary medicine, of all other life science, from the study and ‘treatment’ of human beings.

Unfortunately, over the last 100-plus years, actually since the puritanical Victorian era of global empire, the global rise in religious fundamentalism has even infected historically liberal and socially inclusive Vaishnavism, as can be observed in modern Vaishnava organizations like ISKCON, where it has caused homophobia and the disrespect of women and ‘sexual minorities.’ Fundamentalism is a global phenomenon, not something restricted to Islamists and extreme right-wing ‘conservative’ Protestants.

In the Biosphere, Intersex as Part of the Big Picture is Not Pathological

Evidence from the unbiased science of general biology tells us that intersex humans are not a mistake of God or nature, any more than intersexed, including sex-reversed and sex-changing beings, and whole classes of beings, are a mistake in any of the countless other species of animals and plants on Earth.

However, by controlling the language, and changing the professional jargon from the non-pathologizing and general ‘intersex’ to the pathologizing and specific ‘Disorder of Sex Development,’ these ‘DSD’ religious fundamentalist, pseudo-mind-‘sciences’ professionals and their extreme feminist strange-bedfellows are seeking to take control of the scientific, and therefore the medical discourse. By controlling that discourse, these people intend to control the related religio-political outcomes, thus controlling our lives.

This must not be allowed to happen. These homophobic and other ‘nurture-not-nature’ anti-scientific fanatics are out to invalidate, deprive and ruin the lives of countless human beings, and their cruel agenda must be stopped. Their attitude is that all but a small number of their self-defined ‘Disorders of Sex Development’ are basically ‘all in our minds,’ and therefore the rest of our ‘mental,’ ‘gender’ or ‘sexual orientation’ ‘problems’ can be treated with their feminist or ‘queer’ theory, talk-therapy, aversion therapy, reparative therapy, psychoactive drugs, or exorcism!

Intersex-related people are not any more mentally or affectively ill, wrong or evil, than their countless non-human intersex being counterparts in the rest of creation. A person’s genes and/or the shape of their genitalia has nothing to do with their mental or moral soundness or other qualification to occupy a post or to do a job. But the DSD cadre wants to create an exclusivist club of people with their cadre’s own narrowly defined physically pathological ‘disorders,’ and then to label everyone else as mentally or emotionally ill.

The Organization Intersex International (OII) Opposes the Abuse of Intersex People by the Use of the Pathologizing Term ‘DSD’

The OII is fighting this ill-motivated campaign for the exclusivist and pathologizing term ‘DSD’ to replace ‘intersex.’ Detailed information on the legal, academic and other aspects of this struggle is available on the websites of the OII affiliates, Lynn Conway and GenderCare.

Intersex is the modern medical term preferred by most educated and chromosomally or otherwise physically atypical ‘intersex’ people, here in the West. Those working to improve the lives of all kinds of intersex people in the East, Africa, Latin America, etcetera, should familiarize themselves with this ‘framing the discourse’ of intersex-versus-DSD issue, because it is centrally important to the global modern medical discourse and ultimately to the related social-religious-legal future of all intersex-related people, wherever they are.

Why I Am So Concerned about Feminized ‘Males’ and ‘Male-to-Female’ Transsexuals and Transgendered People

In my studies of human and animal sex differentiation, sex dimorphic behavior and social order, the evidence has shown that feminized so-called ‘males’ occur much more frequently in mammals and humans than masculinized so-called ‘females.’ Thus these beings constitute the majority of intersexed and transsexed-behaved individuals in any mammal species.

I have concluded that, regarding the proximate causation, this is because it is so much easier for a so-called ‘male’ mammal fetus, carried in its mother’s womb, to be influenced by feminizing hormones. This is why there is a larger ‘feminine male’ homosexual, transsexed and transgendered, or ‘Hijra’ class population anywhere, than there is a transsexed ‘masculine female’ population.

As a late-virilizing intersex person, who was raised as a girl, masculinized and was legally reassigned to male as an adult, I have seen, met and corresponded with hundreds of ‘male-to-female’ transsexed and ‘feminized male’ people over the last 40 years, but in that time I have comparatively rarely seen or met anyone like myself.

There are many masculine women, but not so many XX intersex people as XY intersex people. And, of course, not all humans have XX or XY ‘sex chromosomes.’ In animals, such gene-variant individuals are commonly called intersexed. Transsexed behavior is common in other species and can be easily created in most common laboratory or social-animal study environments with appropriately timed hormone administration. These hormonally altered behaviorally transsexed creatures are then called intersexed. When humans exhibit the same kind of behavior, they often self-identify as ‘transsexual.’ Thus I view the human condition called transsexualism as a subset of intersex.

Most intersex and transsex behavior conditions in animals and humans do not seem to be caused by genetics, but rather seem to be caused by non-genetic fetal hormonal influences. When it is fetal hormonal influence that masculinizes a so-called ‘female’ fetus, this may come from the mother’s third adrenal cortex, her androgen-producing uterine tumor or cysts, or some other rare cause, and so such XX-male or masculine people are much more rare than uterine-hormone feminized XY people.

Androgenized intersex people like me are also generally very assertive and highly successful, if they can physically ‘pass’ for being normal men. Thus they do not have the same social problems that ‘feminized males’ do, and do not need the same social interventions as a class. This is why I am so much more involved with the human rights and social justice class issues of the Hijra, or class of ‘feminine homosexuals,’ or so-called ‘male-to-female’ transsexed, transgendered and intersexed people. In today’s homophobic world, where ‘feminine males’ are despised and even demonized, they are a class in almost every society that is being used as a general scapegoat for the ills of the whole society. Therefore they as a class need special social intervention and protection.

Just as feminine male children are the targets of the worst bullying in junior high and high schools, feminine men or male-to-female transsexuals are the persons most often beaten, raped and killed in impersonal sex-related ‘hate crimes.’

Of course numerically women and girls get beaten and raped more than any other class of persons, but this is usually domestic violence, committed by a family member, not a non-family member who has gone out ‘gay bashing.’

Is there a link between violence against women and violence against feminine men or male-to-female transsexuals? Yes. The same violent ‘macho’ people commit both crimes.